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1 in 8 boomers reports memory loss, large survey finds

One in eight Americans over the age of 60 reports worsening memory loss, raising concerns of an Alzheimer’s Disease crisis as the baby-boom generation gets older, a large government study finds. And it's bugging the youngest members of that age group the most.

Nearly 13 percent people 60 or older reported confusion or memory loss occuring more often or getting worse over the past 12 months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Of these people, one-third reported that confusion or memory loss interfered with their work, social activities, or ability to do household chores, the CDC found in analyzing a survey of 59,000 people in 21 states.

Because it’s the first self-reported survey of memory loss, it’s difficult to draw conclusions, said Angela Deokar, a public health adviser at the CDC.

“This is the first time we have such data,” she said, adding that future surveys would look at why people in the 60-64 age group seemed to suffer more when they did have memory loss. The survey found that 12 percent of 60 to 64-year-olds complained of confusion or memory loss, and of them,  nearly 45 percent said it interfered with daily life or work. That's worse than in the 85-and-older group -- only 38 percent of them felt the memory loss or confusion interfered with their lives.

“These findings suggest a need for future studies to examine the relationship of age and functional difficulties caused by increased confusion or memory loss,” Deokar said.

But only 35 percent of those who reported memory loss said they had discussed their symptoms with a health care provider. It's not clear whether the symptoms are just very mild, or that baby boomers are in denial.

“Some say ‘Oh, it’s just a normal part of aging.’ It’s not,” said Matthew Baumgart, senior director of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association, which is analyzing the CDC results.

“When one in eight Americans 60-plus says they are having memory problems, then we continue to have a problem and things are not going to get better for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Even though 12.7 percent reported worsening memory loss in the previous year, that did not necessarily mean they were developing Alzheimer’s, Baumgart said, although forgetfulness is a key sign of the disease. Alzheimer’s disease, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, is also the fastest growing threat because of the aging population.

“There is definitely a stigma surrounding this disease and 80 percent not talking to their doctor is an indication of that,” he said.

The study, which was conducted in 2011, only included the first five years of the Baby Boom generation to turn 60. “We’ve got another 15 years to come,” Baumgart said.

That will put more pressure on the system, since Alzheimer’s and dementia are probably the costliest illnesses because many patients eventually need nursing home care, he said. Most patients live four to eight year after diagnosis, but many can live for 20 more years, Baumgart said, adding that about one-third of Alzheimer’s patients live alone and are unaware of their symptoms.

“No treatments will slow the advance of the disease, but a diagnosis can allow a patient to plan for future care,” he said, stressing the importance of early detection.

Lynda Anderson, who is director of the CDC’s Healthy Aging Program, said respondents were clearly told the study was about memory loss deteriorating in the previous 12 months. “We prefaced the questions by telling them it was not about losing your keys or forgetting a face, like we all do sometimes," she said.

A new study is underway involving drugs that may prevent Alzheimer's. NBC's Robert Bazell reports.